FOR weeks, the cheers, claps and whistles of those backing the Unite Cyprus Now initiative have been making themselves heard in the buffer zone. Hundreds have turned out day after day, sometimes forming human chains, on other occasions dancing to live music, and more recently, supporters have been holding up powerful reminders of what a non-solution means for Cyprus: pictures of barbed wires and permanent division.
The sincerity and commitment of those involved is clear to see. Long ago they chose to move beyond the obvious differences that exist between the two communities: the enmity from the '63-'74 conflict, language barriers, our different faiths and diverse ethnic heritage. Instead, they choose to focus on the things that unite us: our common homeland, similar culture and values, and a shared vision of an island no longer divided and shaped by its past trauma.
This week, some of these activists have taken their message to Crans-Montana, Switzerland, where the two leaders are meeting with representatives of the island’s three guarantor powers, Britain, Turkey and Greece. They stand outside the front entrance of the conference venue urging the parties on and letting them know of their responsibilities. After all, both Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı were elected on pro-solution tickets.
In essence, both leaders have gone further than any of their predecessors. The early days of Mustafa Akıncı’s term in particular gave off great hope, as he sat sipping coffee with his counterpart in the heart of Cyprus’s divided capital, before walking the streets talking to traders and the public arm-in-arm. And that same year, their shared Christmas message.
Had that same atmosphere continued, there would be little need to have a Unite Cyprus Now initiative. The Cypriot public would be taking their lead from these two elected officials, and we would be writing about the many important developments occurring daily that showed relations on the ground were changing: Cypriots regularly interacting, trading, working side-by-side to build up trust and cooperation.
This life exists for some. But for the vast majority of Cypriots, our worlds remain firmly wedded to our own part of the island. Coming from a family who are refugees (father from Silicou, Limassol, and mother from Baf/Paphos) and whose parents have both lost relatives in the conflict, I know very well why it’s easier to stay apart. But as a Londoner used to diversity all around me, including Greeks, I can also see a Cyprus moving beyond its past to become a beacon of peace and reconciliation for our deeply troubled region.
But wanting something doesn’t make it so. Kemal Baykallı, formerly the deputy secretary-general of the Cyprus Turkish Chamber of Commerce, is currently in Switzerland. I’m enjoying his live Facebook streams. One of the comments he repeats is that Unite Cyprus Now “represents the silent majority”. It’s true: most do want the island reunified. But where’s our common vision of what this new political union looks like?
Do we agree on security? Events both on and off the island make the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots unwilling to dispense with the guarantor system. We trust Turkey; we don’t trust the EU or the UN to save us. They failed before, and in this volatile region, we would not want to rely on them again. Greek Cyprus wants Turkish troops out and the guarantees gone. Can we find a compromise that works? Would the South accept a guarantee just for the North for a fixed period of time, and if all works, the guarantees being indeed dispensed with permanently?
Are we OK on bizonality? As the smaller of the two communities, we want our Turkish Cypriot essence maintained and safeguarded, which is why we insist on living as a majority in a dedicated area. But Greek Cypriots resist, claiming this is tantamount to “legitimising the ethnic cleansing of 1974” and is against EU freedoms. We should instead be living in one unitary state.
Yet bizonality is a fundamental part of the vision for Cyprus, as set out in the 1977 and 1979 High Level Agreements, signed off by successive Greek Cypriot leaders and endorsed by the UN through Security Council Resolution 649 (1990). Can we bridge the gap here?
Then the thorniest aspects of all: population, property and territory. The Greek Cypriot side said the Annan Plan was “buried”, yet they still want the same territorial adjustments as 2004 and a bit more. They also want the Turkish settlers to go, while conveniently ignoring the large numbers of Russian, Georgians and Pontian Greek settlers on their side.
There are rumours of a cap on the number of Turkish Cypriot citizens, so we remain outnumbered 4:1 on the island. Plus there’s the prospect of 70,000 to 90,000 Greek Cypriots moving to the North.
Britain couldn’t handle a 5 per cent influx of foreigners, going anti-immigrant, pro-Brexit, and hate crimes having soared since last year’s referendum. Imagine the social problems that will arise when we relocate a Greek Cypriot population a quarter the size of our own? Add to this mix the fact entire towns and villages are meant to offload their Turkish and foreign inhabitants to make way for the newcomers. And that’s if we get a global property exchange. Greek Cypriots demand an individual, case-by-case approach, which could keep former and current property users locked in disputes for years. The nationalists on both sides will have a field day stoking up tensions.
We also have the growing impact of far-right Greek Cypriot party Elam, backed by the Orthodox Church, to contend with. Getting bolder each day, they’ve stormed a talk by former president Talat, threatened a potato farmer for daring to trade with TRNC farmers, sponsored a motion to celebrate Enosis in schools, and are apparently planning to attack Turks on July 20.
Are we ready for unification? Or are we priming Cyprus for a new conflict? Unification isn’t some paper exercise. Nor will “willing it” to happen be enough. Idealism needs to drill down into realism and start eliminating these deep-rooted inter-communal problems, to create a genuine understanding of mutual needs that plays out positively in everyday life. If not, let’s keep the status quo just as it is: we risk too much otherwise.
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